T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but many would

legitimately counter that February actually takes that dubious honor,

with its bone-chilling cold and monochromatic gray skies leading the

weary soul to lust for spring and the scent of fresh blooms. If you

aren’t lucky enough to be going south this winter you can step into an

ersatz spring at the Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New

Jersey, held Thursday through Sunday, February 17 through 20, at the

New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. Mary Jo Codey, wife of acting

governor Richard J. Codey, will cut the ribbon on Thursday at 11 a.m.

The third annual show will feature hundreds of exhibitors offering

ideas and materials for stylish outdoor living, from tablecloths from

Provence and limited edition porcelain collectibles to outdoor

furniture, gardening tools, and entertaining accessories.

Award-winning horticulturists, gardening, and culinary experts will

also be on hand to tell you how to get the most out of your garden –

one seminar is called "How to Throw the Perfect Outdoor Party." Chef

Jim Weaver from Tre Piani in Princeton will speak about the Slow Food

movement and give a food demonstration and tasting (see sidebar).

The centerpiece of the event, of course, is the flowers, thousands of

blooming plants creating a visual and olfactory experience that

promises to take attendees far, far away from chilly landscape of

winter. This year’s theme is "The Art of the Garden," which celebrates

gardening as an art form – with the idea that the natural colors and

shapes of flowers and plants are to a gardener what brushes and paints

are to artists. Thirteen landscape designers from throughout the state

have been chosen to interpret that theme by creating elaborate

displays for a juried competition in several categories, including

best educational display, best interpretations of the theme, and most

environmentally friendly.

One of the featured designers is Ash’s Flower Farm, which has four

locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Pennington,

Hillsborough, and New Hope. Though his family has been growing flowers

in the area for over 100 years, owner Ron Ash started the business

back in the 1980s as a way to pay for his education as a finance and

administration major at Rider University. "He would go to flea markets

and sell plants to raise some spare cash. The next thing you know he

needed a place to hold his plants and that was the start of the

Pennington location," says Alex Salvi, sales and marketing manager at

Ash’s. The family business, 20 years later, is still flourishing,

offering full service flower and garden centers – and providing

landscape design services. Though they also supply landscapers, about

90 percent of the business is direct to homeowners.

Ash grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, learning about plants from his

father and grandfather, who showed his flowers at the renowned

Philadelphia Flower Show. Ash’s sister, Lisa Miccolis, is manager of

the Hillsborough location; his brother, Gary Ash, is manager of the

Columbus location; and Pat Miccolis, his mother, is the head of the

container garden division. Even while Ash is preparing for the New

Jersey Flower Show, he is also preparing to show for the fourth year

at the Philadelphia Flower Show in March.

Salvi says the flower shows help Ash’s hit their target market even

before the spring rush. "At the shows, we are right where our

customers are going to be, and if a gardener hasn’t met us yet, this

is where they can. It’s a visual resume. Sure, we can pass out

brochures and cards. But we can also showcase what types of flowers we

carry, the kinds of things we are capable of doing. It’s a spectacular

opportunity."

Ash’s Flower Farm captured second place last year at the New Jersey

show in the People’s Choice awards category. Salvi says the

Marketplace, where hundreds of exhibitors sell their wares right on

the spot, presents another opportunity for Ash’s to sell cut flowers

and potted plants and get out the word about the quality of their

offerings.

Ash’s display garden for the show is called "Glassroots Gardening,"

which mixes plants with handcrafted glass artwork. "We chose glass

because it seemed like the most natural art form to fit into the

garden," says Salvi.

On producer MAC Events’ website, www.macevents.com, "Glassroots

Gardening" gets this colorful description: "The natural beauty of

plants will work in concert with elegant artistry to create an exhibit

to remember. Handcrafted glass artwork will be the feature of this

magnificent showcase garden. It all starts with the plants. A

selection of rare and unusual dwarf conifers will provide accent

throughout the landscape. Tropical flowers will delight the senses.

Colorful annuals and perennials will be seen throughout the exhibit.

And a beautiful selection of flowering bulbs will remind you that

spring is right around the corner. Lastly, reclaimed artistic glass

pieces placed throughout the garden will be the feature you go home

talking about."

Salvi says one of the biggest trends in gardening right now is the

idea of creating an outdoor living space. "It’s not just about

landscape beds any more, or putting up a tree. It’s creating another

room, an extension of your house. People are building gardens in

outdoor spaces that fit their lifestyle and comfort level." He says

the trend has grown out of the post 9/11 world. "People just want to

stay home and nest, and creating a beautiful outdoor living space is

part of that trend. According to a recent leisure activities study

gardening is now the number one hobby in America with 85 million

American households taking part. Gardening is hot."

People are also taking the idea of the garden as art one step further

by integrating statuary and sculpture into their gardens. Salvi says

one of the fastest growing market segments is container gardening,

putting a medley of plants into decorative pots. While the concept of

container gardening isn’t new, Salvi says people are now doing it more

and more, with increasing creativity. "It’s great because you don’t

need a big space. Even if you live in a New York townhouse you can

have a beautiful container garden. It’s not sticking one thing into a

pot, it’s a combination of plants, an arrangement."

Container gardening is one of Ash’s Flower Farm’s specialties. "You

won’t find many retail gardening outlets with a division devoted to

container gardening," says Salvi. "You can come here, buy something,

take it home, leave it inside for a couple of weeks, then in the

spring, voila!"

Salvi recommends the New Jersey Flower and Garden and Outdoor Living

Show for anyone who is tired of winter, has cabin fever, and needs to

get out of the house. "If you’re a gardener you’ll have 13 of the best

showing you what’s new and exciting in gardening, plus hundreds of

vendors showing you how you can get the most out of your garden.

You’re only two or three weeks from digging in your garden so start

early, get ideas, see what the best of the best are doing."

He has these tips for getting the most out of your visit to the show:

1. The ideal time is to go during a weekday afternoon. It gets very

crowded on the weekend and evenings.

2. Bring your gardening questions for the experts. If you can, bring

clippings of plants you are having a hard time with.

3. Bring a camera and get ideas.

4. Bring extra money. The Marketplace showcases the latest and most

exciting varieties of plant materials.

"We’re specialists in flower show presentations so this is a great

platform for us to go and work," says Salvi. "We put thousands of

dollars into putting forth our display but we get every penny back in

the exposure and word-of-mouth advertisement."

2005 Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New Jersey, February

17-20, New Jersey Convention Center, Edison. Call 1-800-332-3976 or

visit www.macevents.com.

Slow in the Kitchen

‘If there’s free food to be had, you can pretty much count on a crowd

gathering," predicts Jim Weaver. The executive chef and co-owner of

Tre Piani in Princeton Forrestal Village will conduct a food

demonstration and tasting at the Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show

of New Jersey on Saturday, February 19, at 1 p.m.

Weaver is founder of the central New Jersey chapter of Slow Food USA,

an international organization that preserves and protects local foods.

"We’re trying to promote the idea of the table as a source of

pleasure, something Americans have gotten away from," says Weaver, a

Princeton resident who graduated from the Morristown-Beard School in

1981, then studied hotel and restaurant management at New Hampshire

College. "The supermarket culture dictates what farmers are going to

grow. People will buy things that look the same and have a longer

shelf life. Society’s obsession with fast food has meant that farmers

can’t afford to grow quality produce." Yet the most selective chefs

want only the freshest and best. Weaver has been a long-time advocate

of using locally grown ingredients as he does in his own award-winning

dishes. "Slow Food is out to save small farmers, critical in a state

like New Jersey," he says.

Weaver says he hasn’t decided what he will cook at the show on

Saturday – maybe seafood, definitely locally-grown greenhouse

microgreens, and baby shoots of different lettuces, herbs, and

vegetables with an intense flavor. "I’m not much of a gardener myself.

I can cook it but I can’t grow it," he says.

Slow Food USA runs the Ark Project that identifies endangered foods,

then cultivates a niche market for them. Weaver cites the largely

unknown heritage breed turkey, now raised at the Griggstown Quail

Farm. "Our movement found small poultry farmers committed to raising

these birds and promised we would help presell them. It’s not your

supermarket broad-breasted white turkey, genetically engineered to

grow faster. They’re expensive, $75 each, but after you taste it, you

will never look at another turkey again." Weaver says the species has

gone from endangered to watch status in just one year. "It’s ironic to

save a species by eating it but that’s what we did."

He says what started as a small grassroots movement has now created a

snowball effect with the power of universities, restaurant

associations, and the Department of Agriculture getting behind local

farmers and setting up local distribution networks. "It’s not just

about eating the food," he says, "it’s about asking where it comes

from and using products that come from responsible sources."

"Slow Food," talk and tasting, Jim Weaver, chef of Tre Piani, at the

Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New Jersey, Saturday, February

19, 1 p.m., New Jersey Convention Center, seminar room A. Call

800-332-3976 or visit www.macevents.com.

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